Bright lights, big city: Tuscaloosa native becomes Nashville recording artist


Photo courtesy of Todd Cooley

Kinsley Centers, Contributing Writer

A girl that grew up playing in a family band is now making her dreams a reality. Tabitha Cooley, a senior majoring in education, said her interest in music began to grow when she learned how to play guitar at 12 years old. From singing local gigs to hearing herself on the radio, she said she had no idea her music career would take off the way that it has. Cooley said her music journey has been exciting, nerve-wracking and rewarding.

Cooley was the lead singer of her family band, Neon Smoke, for five years. She began playing solo acoustic gigs around town and later had the opportunity to open up for Muscadine Bloodline and Murphy Elmore at Druid City Music Hall. Cooley is now the lead singer in the band Tab and the Mojo.

The band was originally Mojo Trio before Cooley joined. Cooley said she met the other members of Mojo Trio last year, and after playing some songs together, she instantly knew joining the band was the next step she needed to take in her music career. Transitioning into the band was a smooth process because of how supportive the other band members were of her and her original songs. Ricky Burch, Tab and the Mojo’s drummer, said they all clicked together.

Burch said he is thankful to have met Cooley, and that not only is she a talented musician, but she is genuinely a great person. He said he cannot describe the level of talent Cooley has with her singing and songwriting.

“[Hearing Cooley sing], it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard,” Burch said.

He said he believes in Cooley, and she has everything it takes to work her way to the top with hopes that she will.

Burch said he cannot put into words how proud he is of Cooley for her dedication to music and being the person she is, also saying her talent and humility compare to no other.

“I am awfully proud of her. I’m just proud of her for a lot of reasons,” Burch said.

Burch said Tab and the Mojo have accomplished so much in a short period of time, and he is excited to see what the future holds for Cooley.

Cooley practices both with her band and on her own time, but regardless of what type of practice it is, it has to be a set and definite time so that everyone is on the same page. She said her band often changes up their set list and learns new songs. She said it requires a lot of hard work and dedication to perform that way.

Cooley had the opportunity to record her EP “Tabitha Cooley It Was You” with producer Bob Bullock in Nashville, Tennessee. Bullock has previously worked with famous country artists such as Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks and many more.

The EP consists of five original songs, each written by Cooley, and is available on all music platforms. Cooley said she is still in shock when she looks at her phone and sees herself on Apple Music and Spotify, but also said it is rewarding to see the picture of her album and have her songs on these music platforms for everyone to enjoy.

Cooley said country music tells a story, and she is thankful she is able to share hers.

“Being able to help other people through their sad times and help them have fun during their good times has been really important to me on my journey with music, and so I hope to keep doing that for as long as I can,” she said.

When it comes to balancing school and music, Cooley said it can be tough, but she keeps the big picture in mind. There needs to be a balance between school and music, because they are both important to her, and she can’t imagine choosing one over the other because she has always managed both. Cooley attributes staying organized to her success in academics while she pursues her music career, even making the President’s List last semester.

Cooley said the biggest challenge with her music career is sometimes missing out on things she would like to be a part of. Although it is difficult, she knows she has to do her job, and she’s thankful to have understanding and supportive friends and family.

Candy Cooley, mother of Tabitha Cooley, said Tabitha Cooley has always had an interest in music growing up. Candy Cooley said her and her husband Todd Cooley knew music was not just a phase for her. Candy Cooley said Tabitha Cooley loved singing at church as a child, and as she grew up, was able to perform at various places.

Candy Cooley said music comes naturally to her daughter. Candy Cooley said Tabitha Cooley’s friends and family support her every step she takes, and that no matter the cost, place or distance, Tabitha Cooley’s family will be there to support her as they always have.

Overall, Candy Cooley said she hopes for her daughter to live a fulfilled life whether it is on stage or not. She said she wants Tabitha Cooley to do what makes her happy, and she is going to be proud of her either way.

 “It’s amazing to sit out there [in the audience] and hear and see your child on a stage, in the spotlight, you know, singing and shining and dancing and just making other people happy,” Candy Cooley said. “It’s amazing. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Candy Cooley said Tabitha Cooley’s music career is in God’s hands from here, and they plan to continue to enjoy it every step of the way. She also said Tabitha Cooley’s success has been a true blessing to the whole family.

Matt Hallman, Tabitha Cooley’s boyfriend, said it is exciting to see her grow as a musician, and its interesting to learn about the industry as she navigates it. He said this experience brings him a whole new perspective on music.

Hallman said he spends a lot of late nights and long days with Tabitha Cooley as she travels to perform, but he said they are able to use that time to bond. Seeing how much music means to her is especially fun, he said.

“It’s fun, you know, getting to hear her make music and bring joy to people’s lives, and you know, seeing how people are able to start relating to her music is a really important thing because her music means so much to both she and I,” Hallman said.

Tabitha Cooley’s advice to anyone considering pursuing a career in music is to have the right mindset. She said it is important that people do it for the right reasons, including self bettermend having the opportunity to help those around them.

“If you’re enjoying music and you enjoy playing and singing and writing, then that’s all that should matter, and if you’re enjoying it, then you’re on the right track,” Tabitha Cooley said.

Her “Tabitha Cooley It Was You” EP release party will be held on Feb. 26 at the Cypress Inn Pavilion from 6-10 p.m. At the release party, CDs and a variety of merchandise will be available to purchase.

Facebook Pages: Tabitha Cooley Music and Tab and the Mojo

Instagram: tabithacooleymusic